by Maille Halloran
“If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.” Charles Dickens’ quotes on the law are, as a rule, infamous. His lawyers are the same. Who can forget the wretched Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, or the conniving Mr. Tulkinghorn in Bleak House? Lawyers appear in 11 of Dickens’ 15 novels. They are always unscrupulous and often otherworldly.
Mr Bumble, the beadle in Oliver Twist exclaimed, “The law is a ass – a idiot”. Dickens wrote from experience, working in this ‘ass’ of a profession before inventing the stories we all studied in high school. Dickens worked first as a clerk in London firms and later as a court reporter, mastering a difficult shorthand system for taking notes. Dickens began to write about more than court sittings, and the rest is history.
For all his evident qualms about the law, it is easy to find similarities between Charles Dickens and the barristers of today. Though Dickens worked on the page and barristers in person, both are recognized storytellers.